HC Deb 28 May 1968 vol 765 cc1541-7
Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Arthur Palmer) addressed to me yesterday a complaint of privilege relating to the text of an article published in the Observer on 26th May, 1968, pages 1 and 2, under the signatures of Laurence Marks and Joanna Slaughter, relating to biological warfare.

In my view, the hon. Gentleman's complaint does raise a matter of Privilege conferring on it precedence over the Orders of the Day.

The practice of the House now requires a Motion to be moved either by the Leader of the House or by the hon. Member who made the complaint and that Motion, of course, is debatable.

The Lord Privy Seal and the Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Fred Peart)

In view of your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, it falls to me, as Leader of the House, in accordance with past practice, to move, That the matter of the complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges. It would, I think, be in the interests of the whole House if this were now decided with no further debate at this stage.

Mr. Speaker

The question is—

Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire) rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member has been in the House long enough to know that before the Motion can be debated it must be put to the House.

The Question is, That the matter of the complain be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

Mr. Emrys Hughes rose

Hon. Members: Oh, no.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

Frequently, when hon. Members challenge any decision of the House—and often important decisions —we are greeted with cries of "Sit down!", "Shut up!", and so on, but we should have more information from the Leader of the House before we submit to the Committee of Privileges something which may be regarded as an attack on the liberties of the Press. The liberties of the Press are very important and I would like from my right hon. Friend more than the bare explanation which we have heard so far.

The argument is that this was in some way a leak from the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and that because it was a leak on the subject of biological warfare the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges. But the Sunday Press is full of leaks of all kinds. Why do we single out this particular one? Leaks are customary from the meetings of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Will this case be a precedent? Will the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party suggest now that an article in the Sunday Express, the Observer, or the Sunday Times also constitutes a breach of privilege? Without any explanation, the House is to remit this to the Committee of Privileges, and this is a very dangerous thing.

I read the article in the Observer on Sunday and I thought that it was very good and should be read by every responsible citizen. It was headed, "Biological warfare: Dons named ". I am not interested in the naming of the dons, but I am interested, as we should all be interested, in biological warfare. Having re-read the article, I see no reason, unless I can be convinced otherwise, that this is a special article which should be considered by the Committee of Privileges.

It may be argued that it deals with confidential information, but, if so, it is open for the Observer to be prosecuted under the Official Secrets Act and to defend itself in the courts. But here we have a point to consider—

Hon. Members: Get on with it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Privilege is a serious matter. We must listen to the hon. Member.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am making my speech as short as possible, but I think that a vital issue is at stake. We are entitled to the fullest possible information about bacteriological warfare and this article discloses nothing which would be of any use to a foreign Power. In fact, most of the information has already been made available in American technical journals which have dealt very fully with this matter. There is a quarterly magazine published by the American Defence Department and I have seen it displayed in Peking.

There is no reason, from the point of view of this country's defence, for this matter to be "hush-hushed" and shoved away to the Committee of Privileges— [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] I am accustomed to taking unpopular stands. That is what I am here for—.

Hon. Members: Do not take so long about it.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Noise does not advance our proceedings at all.

Mr. Emrys Hughes

I am making my case as simple as possible.

I see no reason why the House, with no further information or explanation, should say that this matter should go to the Committee of Privileges before any other Press article. I insist that the question whether we are preparing, by biological warfare, to wipe out this country and the whole human race is a matter for public discussion. If the Leader of the House says that it is not, and can produce any reason why it is not, I will listen respectfully, but I suggest that we should have a further explanation before agreeing to the Motion.

Mr. Arthur Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

My hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is mistaken about the purpose of the House referring a matter to the Committee of Privileges. He suggests that the House should carry out this investigation itself, now. You have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that there is a prima facie case to be examined and the House has set up this Select Committee to find out the facts. Until those facts are discovered, it seems that the House will be wasting its time in carrying out a full investigation now.

Mr. David Winnick (Croydon, South)

It is because I have reservations in my mind about the procedure we are adopting that I am seeking to detain the House. I certainly agree with the earlier remarks of the hon. Gentleman, but I want to look at this matter in a somewhat different light. I hope that the House will appreciate that it is only because I have strong reservations that I am taking up the time of the whole House; otherwise, I would not do so. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Some hon. Members disagree, but in raising this matter today, the House is basing itself to a large extent on a Resolution passed on 21st April, 1837.

I have looked at that Resolution—it was some time ago, as the House will appreciate—and it appears that it stated that evidence taken by a Select Committee of the House and documents presented to such a Committee which have not been reported to the House ought not to be published by any members of such Committees, or any other person.

It may well be that hon. Members will say the Resolution is one which should continue in practice, but I do not believe so; and it is because I do not believe so that I have certain objections and reservations with regard to the procedure we are now following. If this matter is to go to the Committee of Privileges that Committee should be asked by the House to look again at the Resolution passed in 1837. I believe that in a free society the Press has a duty to probe, to investigate, all our workings, and should not necessarily be asked to limit itself to official reports. What we seem to be saying is that a Select Committee took evidence which was later published in the Observer, but because it was not officially published by the Committee the Press had no right to publish that information. I disagree.

We have had controversy before on whether or not party meetings should be privileged, and over a period of time we have tended to change our minds. Though technically, and perhaps in theory, party meetings upstairs are protected by parliamentary privilege, in practice that does not appear to be the case any longer. I would hope that even if we are to agree to the Motion moved by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House we will recognise that there are drawbacks in continuing with a Resolution passed so

many years ago. I would rather this matter was debated on the Floor of the House and not sent to the Committee, but, obviously, the House thinks otherwise.

If this matter is to go to the Committee then I would plead with the Committee to look again at the Resolution passed in 1837, and consider whether there is not a strong case for its being rescinded.

Question put, That the matter of the Complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges:—

The House divided: Ayes 398, Noes 14.

Division No. 182.] AYES [3.54 p.m.
Abse, Leo Chapman, Donald Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)
Albu, Austen Chichester-Clark, R. Ford, Ben
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Clegg, Walter Fortescue, Tim
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Coe, Denis Foster, Sir John
Alldritt, Walter Coleman, Donald Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)
Archer, Peter Concannon, J. D. Galpern, Sir Myer
Armstrong, Ernest Conlan, Bernard Garrett, W. E.
Astor, John Cooke, Robert Gibson-Watt, David
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Corbet, Mrs. Freda Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.) Costain, A. P. Ginsburg, David
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne) Glyn, Sir Richard
Baker, Kenneth (Acton) Crawshaw, Richard Goodhart, Philip
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Cower, Raymond
Barnett, Joel Crosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Grant, Anthony
Baxter, William Crouch, David Grant-Ferris, R.
Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton Crowder, F. P. Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)
Beaney, Alan Cullen, Mrs. Alice Gregory, Arnold
Bell, Ronald Cunningham, Sir Knox Gresham Cooke, R.
Bence, Cyril Currie, G. B. H. Grey, Charles (Durham)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Datkeith, Earl of Grieve, Percy
Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton) Dalyell, Tam Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Berry, Hn. Anthony Dance, James Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Bessell, Peter Davidson,James(Aberdeenshire,W.) Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (LlanelIy)
Biggs-Davison, John Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Griffiths, Will (Exchange)
Binns, John Davies, G. Eifed (Rhondda, E.) Grimond, Rt. Hon. J.
Bishop, E. S. Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Gurden, Harold
Black, Sir Cyril Davies, Harold (Leek) Hall-Davis, A. G. F.
Blackburn, F. Davies, Ifor (Gower) Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Btaker, Peter Davies, S. o. (Merthyr) Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Dean Paul (somert, N.) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Hamling, William
Body, Richard Delargy, Hugh Harper, Joseph
Bossom, Sir Clive Dell, Edmund Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Dempsey, James Harrison, Brian (MaWon)
Boyden, James Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Harrison, Col. 8ir Harwood (Eye)
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Dickens, James Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Digby, Simon Wingfield Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere
Bradley, Tom Dobson, Ray Harvie Anderson, Miss
Braine, Bernard Doig, Peter Haseldine, Norman
Bray, Dr. Jeremy Doughty, Charles Hattersley, Roy
Brewis, John Drayson, G. B. Hazell, Bert
Brinton, Sir Tatton Driberg, Tom Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.-Col.SirWalter Dunnett, Jack Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward
Brooks, Edwin Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Henig, Stanley
Brown, Rt. Hn. Ceorge (Belper) Eadie, Alex Heseltine, Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Eden, Sir John Higgins, Terence L.
Brown,Bob(N'c'tle-upon.Tyne,W.) Edwards, William (Merioneth) Hiley, Joseph
Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'bury) Elliott, R.W. (N'c'tte-upon-Tyne,N.) Hill, J. E. B.'
Bryan, Paul Ellis, John Hilton, W. S.
Buchan, Norman English, Michael Hobden, Dennis (Brighton, K'town)
Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M) Errington, Sir Eric Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quint n
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Holland, Philip
Bullus, Sir Eric Farr, John Hordern, Peter
Burden, F. A. Ferayhough, E. Hornby, Richard
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Fisher, Nigel Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Campbell, Gortlon Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)
Carlisle, Mark Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Carmichael, Neil Foley, Maurice Howell, Denis (Small Heath)
Cary, Sir Robert Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich) Hoy, James
Huckfield, Leslie Mayhew, Christopher Scott, Nicholas
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mendelson, J. J. Scott-Hopkins, James
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Millan, Bruce Sharpies, Richard
Hunt, John Miller, Dr. M. S. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Hunter, Adam Mills, Peter (Torrington) Sheldon, Robert
Hutchison, Michael Clark Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Hynd, John Milne, Edward (Blyth) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Iremonger, T. L. Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test) Silvester, Frederick
Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Monro, Hector Sinclair, Sir George
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Montgomery, Fergus Skeffington Arthur
Jay, Rt. Hn, Douglas Moonman, Eric Slater, Joseph
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) More, Jasper Small, William
Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Smith Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Smith John (London & W'minster)
Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Snow, Julian
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Morrison, Charles (Devizes) Spriggs, Leslie
Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Stainton, Keith
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Moyle, Roland Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West) Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Stodart Anthony
Judd, Frank Murton, Oscar Stoddart- Scott, Col. Sir M. (Ripon)
Kaberry, Sir Donald Neave, Airey Stonehouse John
Kenyon, Clifford Nicholls, Sir Harmar Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Kerby, Capt. Henry Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Swain, Thomas
Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby,S.)
Kershaw, Anthony Nott, John Swingler, Stephen
Kimball, Marcus Oakes, Gordon Symonds, J. B.
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Ogden, Eric Tapsell, Peter
Kirk Peter O'Malley, Brian Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Kitson, Timothy Onslow, Cranley Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Lambton, Viscount Oram, Albert E. Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Lane David Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Temple, John M.
Lawson, George Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian Thomas, Rt. Hn. George
Leadbitter, Ted Osborne, Sir Cyril (Louth) Thomson, Rt. Hn. George
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Oswald, Thomas Thornton, Ernest
Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Page, Derek (King's Lynn) Tinn, James
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Page, Graham (Crosby) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Lipton, Marcus Palmer, Arthur Varley, Eric G.
Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dffield) Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Parker, John (Dagenham) Vickers, Dame Joan
Lomas, Kenneth Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Walden, Brian (All Saints)
Longden, Gilbert Pavitt, Laurence Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Loughlin, Charles Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Luard, Evan Pearson, Sir Frank (Clitheroe) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Wall, Patrick
McAdden, Sir Stephen Peel, John Wallace, George
McCann, John Pentland, Norman Walters, Dennis
MacColl, James Peyton, John Watkins, David (Consett)
MacDermot, Niall Pike, Miss Mervyn Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Macdonald, A. H. Pink, R. Bonner Weatherill, Bernard
Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty) Pounder, Rafton Webster, David
Mackenzie, Gregor (Rutherglen) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Wells, John (Maidstone)
Mackie, John Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. White, Mrs. Eirene
Mackintosh, John P. Price, David (Eastleigh) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Price, Thomas (Westhoughton) Whitlock, William
Maclennan, Robert Prior, J. M. L. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Macleod, Rt. Hn. lain Probert, Arthur Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
McMaster, Stanley Pym, Francis Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Randall, Harry Williams, Donald (Dudley)
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
McNamara, J. Kevin Rees, Merlyn Willis, Rt. Hn. George
MacPherson, Malcolm Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Maddan, Martin Reynolds, G. W. Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Maginnis, John E. Rhodes, Geoffrey Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.) Richard, Ivor Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas Woodnutt, Mark
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Ridsdale, Julian Woof, Robert
Mapp, Charles Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Wright, Esmond
Marks, Kenneth Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth(St.P'c'as) Wyatt, Woodrow
Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Robinson, W. O. J. (Walthamstow, E.) Wylie, N. R.
Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks) Yates, Victor
Marten, Neil Ross, Rt. Hn. William Younger, Hn. George
Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Mawby, Ray Royle, Anthony TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C. Russell, Sir Ronald Mr. Alan Fitch and Mr. Neil McBride.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Whitaker, Ben
Booth, Albert Lee, John (Reading) Winnick, David
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Newens, Stan
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Park, Trevor TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Ewing, Mrs. Winifred Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Mrs. Anne Kerr and Mr. Hugh Jenkins.
Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.) Rose, Paul